A popular topic of conversation (at least in the world of psychology) is whether or not video games make people more aggressive. For years, the bulk of research said yes, they certainly do; even the American Psychological Association declared violent video games—such as Halo and Call of Duty—a danger to players. As reported by the APA Tasks Force on Violent Media: “Research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect.” However, new research “No priming in video games” from the University of York says the contrary: video games do not appear to make players more aggressive.

These researchers hold that violent video games—even increasingly realistic ones—do not ‘prime’ players to behave in one way or another. A popular model of learning through gaming is rooted in the idea that players are more likely to employ concepts they experience in video games (such as violence) in real life. This phenomenon known as ‘priming’ is believed to prompt changes in behavior, but research has failed to provide a definitive conclusion on the matter.

To reach their findings, researchers held a series of experiments with over 3,000 participants. In the first, subjects played one of two games: in one, they were a car avoiding collisions with other trucks, and in another, they were a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. After playing either game, the players were shown different images—perhaps a bus or a dog—and then asked to label them as a vehicle or an animal.

Lead author Dr. David Zendle from the University’s Department of Computer Science explained the experiment’s design: “If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorize the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded. Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case. Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorizing vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower.”

In another experiment, the research team narrowed in on the effects of realism on violent video game players. More specifically, they “looked at the use of ‘ragdoll physics’ in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life.” Participants were randomly chosen to play one of two combat games: in one, ‘ragdoll physics’ was used to create realistic characters, and in the other, it was not. Once the players were finished playing either game, they went on to complete word puzzles or ‘word fragment completion tasks.’

The researchers expected more violent word associations from those who played the more realistic video games, but according to Dr. Zendle, “the priming of violent concepts, as measured by how many violent concepts appeared in the word fragment completion task, was not detectable. There was no difference in priming between the game that employed ‘ragdoll physics’ and the game that didn’t.”

Dr. Zendle says these findings suggest that, contrary to popular belief, video games and their degree of realness do not provoke aggression, let alone produce any real effects. However, “further study is now needed into other aspects of realism to see if this has the same result,” he explains. “What happens when we consider the realism of by-standing characters in the game, for example, and the inclusion of extreme content, such as torture?” Future studies will explore this answer, but for now, video games do not appear to affect an individual’s aggressive or violent tendencies.

University of York (2018, January 16). No Evidence to Support Link Between Violent Video Games and Behavior. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 16, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/behavior-video-games-8322/

Zendle, D., Cairns, P., & Kudenko, D. (2017, September 17). No priming in video games. Computers in Human Behavior. Retrieved on January 17, 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563217305472